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The Spark of Life: Electricity in the Human Body

The Spark of Life: Electricity in the Human Body [Kindle Edition]

Frances Ashcroft
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)

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Product Description


This is a wonderful book. Frances Ashcroft has a rare gift for making difficult subjects accessible and fascinating (Bill Bryson)

Selected as one of the Ten Books to look out for in 2012 (New Scientist)

The more incredible the process, the more elegant Ashcroft's explanation...achieves the sort of rich simplicity most science writers can only dream about (Simon Ings Seven magazine, Daily Telegraph)

Lively, conversational prose - refreshingly accessible (Daily Telegraph)

Fascinating (Nature)

Compelling and very readable ... Do read this excellent book (Literary Review)


This is a wonderful book. Frances Ashcroft has a rare gift for making difficult subjects accessible and fascinating -- Bill Bryson Selected as one of the Ten Books to look out for in 2012 New Scientist

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Readable and fascinating 7 Dec 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I thought this was a terrific book. The subject perhaps sounds a little dry, but Frances Ashcroft writes exceptionally well and shows, with genuine enthusiasm and great expertise, how the electrical systems of the body determine so much of its ability to function and their effect on our everyday (and not so everyday) lives. She is at the forefront of research in this area (specifically ion channels) and her depth of knowledge and understanding are apparent throughout the book.

Ashcroft explains the molecular mechanisms by which electrical signals are transmitted in the body, their effects and their vital importance with great clarity and very interestingly. She often draws on examples of familiar (and not so familiar) illnesses and the effects of well-known poisons to illuminate what she is saying, and the book is well illustrated with very clear line-drawings which I found invaluable. I found the whole thing fascinating and although this certainly isn't a book which you can read like a novel, I often found myself engrossed and wanting to read just a bit more.

If you have any interest in science this book will interest you. It isn't always a light read and requires some pretty serious concentration in places, but the effort is well worth it. Some background knowledge of chemistry or biochemistry certainly helps but is by no means essential, and anyone who has tried Brian Cox's books, for example, would find this on a comparable intellectual level but with far less mathematics and fewer utterly counter-intuitive ideas. This is one of the best science books for the general reader which I have read for some time and I recommend it very warmly.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perseverance, cooperation and serendipity 26 Sep 2012
By T. Russell VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
What makes this book so fascinating is that the author is herself involved at the leading edge of research, and has personal knowledge of the science as well as knowing many of the others working in the same field. As she explains early on, much of the information in the book has been discovered very recently; I studied elementary cytology and biochemistry/electrochemistry in the early seventies, and the advances since then are astonishing - I'm also rather glad that I recently updated my knowledge of anatomy. I heard the author talking on the radio shortly after I acquired the book, and she said that she may have assumed more basic knowledge than many readers will possess, and it's true that some may find some of the book hard going, especially without basic knowledge of the various sciences; in this regard, one of the few weaknesses of the book is the relative paucity of diagrams, and the ones which we have are such as may confuse rather than inform. Fortunately, the text is lightened by diverting episodes on a wide range of subjects, from fainting goats and electric eels to poison arrow frogs and vampire bats as the role of electricity is examined. We also have an insider's look at the history of experiment in the field (including the author's own work) and we realise the absolute dedication of the researchers, the time and care expended on their investigations and the not inconsiderable amount of luck involved. Above all, the value of cooperation is demonstrated, and the idea of the world community of science, as so many advances are due to individuals sharing information in order to achieve their goals. This is a very active area of science, and this is an exciting glimpse.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Truly Excellent Book 27 Sep 2012
By P Campbell VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is an amazing book and one well worth reading, if you want to know more about how we humans are wired electrically speaking. If you are studying this topic or just interested then this area of the human physiology, then read this book.

Ion channels are found in every cell and they are the spark of life, the electricity. Frances Ashcroft explains perfectly all you need to know about how we are what we are and other creatures, too and the role electricity has to play. As someone who has problems with their nervous system, electricity is an engrossing theme!

Written in a humorous way and infinitely enthralling.

Would recommend wholeheartedly.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars She Sings the Body Electric 24 Jun 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Frances Ashcroft is to cell biology what Brian Cox is to particle physics. Both bring what are highly complex and specialist subjects to the general reader and make them accessible. They bring a sense of excitement and meaning to their subject, which is both inquisitive and insightful but never banal.

The author is an innovatory scientist who specializes in the functioning of the pancreas, the beta cells in particular. Those cells produce insulin, a vital hormone that allows glucose to pass into all body cells, hence providing the fuel that converts into energy. What Ashcroft doesn't know about the pancreas, isn't worth knowing.

She has researched extensively the tiny trap doors in the cell's walls, protein ion channels, that control the passage of glucose into the cell. The fact is she actually discovered the very mechanism of this action in her laboratory. She relates this event in a way that conveys the sheer joy of discovering something entirely new, entirely wonderful. Makes you almost want to be a lab rat. I got the same sense of discovery reading her recollection of the event as in Crick and Watson's description of their hunt for the means with which DNA molecules replicate. Awe inspiring stuff.

Her book covers material that illustrates just why we have come to recognize that we along with all other animals, run on an electrical charge in one form or another. All regions of the body use the same physiology to obtain the energy to function, from the brain to the kidneys to the skin. Ashcroft relates the history of how biology discovered how synaptic transmitters work, to how the human genome project has accelerated the search for cures for common diseases.

If there's a more enjoyable science book published this year, I will be amazed.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars and this was a great way to bring my knowledge up to date
Superb explanation of some key scientific principles. It's a while since I went to medical school, and this was a great way to bring my knowledge up to date.
Published 1 month ago by Mr. P. Gardiner
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book on the process of the body and mind
Published 2 months ago by Esher-Punchi
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem of a book
I bought this based on my enjoyment of the first book (Life at the extremes) of this author and was not disappointed. An excellent read. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Carl F Collins
5.0 out of 5 stars I love the book.
I am really pleased with this book.It was a christmas present for my husband who has read the book from our library. Read more
Published 12 months ago by MRS RL FOWKES
5.0 out of 5 stars Very detailed biology
An amazing guided tour of the human body taking us inside the cells of the body and getting us caught up in their continuous rush hour activity....... Read more
Published 15 months ago by cuddy
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant exposition
An introduction to the latest advances in cell physiology valuable to both lay and professional readers. Very useful introduction to medical students, and an update to others.
Published 16 months ago by D. Zuck
4.0 out of 5 stars Jam-packed but occasionally wayward
Often when a scientist or social scientist writes a book on their favourite topic, it revolves around quite a simple central idea. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Max
5.0 out of 5 stars A science writer who enjoys telling stories
Lovely book. FA strikes the right balance between enough science to keep the grey matter interested intertwined with a historical context and stories to bring the subject matter to... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Jay
4.0 out of 5 stars The body electric revealed
I think most of us are aware that the human body uses both chemical and electrical signalling to control its inner functions, but until I read this book I had certainly never... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Brian Clegg
5.0 out of 5 stars WIZARD - A MUST READ
This book is first rate. It is written in a comfortable, highly readable style, and is most authoritative. Expert and packed with information and insights. Full marks!
Published 18 months ago by gogamel
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